On the Day you Start School

Dear Thomas,

The time is here, kiddo. Tomorrow is the day that you start big school.

It’s a huge milestone. And a huge one for Mummy too. I stood hanging out your clothes to dry this weekend and I suddenly remembered doing exactly the same thing the weekend before you were born. I was so aware, then, that life was about to change in ways I couldn’t quite truly imagine. This might not be quite such a massive shift, but it’s a significant change nonetheless. No longer a baby, a toddler or even a preschooler. You’ll be a real-deal school boy.

I look at you, in your uniform and you at once look both so tiny – hands disappearing inside a blazer that slightly swamps you – but also so grown up. And I can’t help but wonder how exactly we got here. In some ways that weekend of hanging out tiny baby clothes feels like yesterday, but simultaneously the time that you were not in our lives feels a whole lifetime ago. Perhaps I feel that more acutely because this month marks four years of trying to give you a sibling. And those four years have been interminably long. (I’m sorry we haven’t succeeded on that one, but I know that you are going to be part of such a warm, friendly school and hopefully your friends will continue to be your surrogate siblings.)

I look back, too, at just how much you’ve learned in the last five years. From the scrunched up little boy with a mop of dark hair who knew only how to suck and to scream (oh, how you could scream) you’re now a little boy full of knowledge. And not just facts but ideas, imagination, opinions. Yes, plenty of those and you’re not afraid to share them. You’re a character with a personality to rival the size of your newborn screams.

It’s true that children are like sponges. You’ve proven that. You’ve learned to crawl, to walk and then to talk. You’ve learned shapes, colours and numbers. You’ve learned to read. The list goes on. And now you constantly surprise me by just how much you know about so many different subjects. Trains are still your top obsession, but space – the sun, the planets, asteroids and comets – comes a close second. One of you favourite games this summer has been “Give me a fact about…” where we have to ask you for a fact about a variety of given subjects. And the stuff you come out with when we ask for a fact about the sun, or trees, or insects, so often amazes me, if not for the fact itself, but where you get this stuff from. You just soak up information and bring it out again at will.

And that is why, my most favourite little boy, you are so, so ready for this next step. Life with you is filled with a never ending barrage of questions about what, when, why, how. You’re ready to learn more. And I know you will. Not just more facts and information, but skills too. (And some of those will be more challenging for you that the basics of letters and numbers. Learning to lose gracefully for starters!)

Of course I have my worries about you. It’s true that we send children to school here in the UK when you are all still so tiny and sometimes your anxieties and your behaviour give us a glimpse of the baby boy still inside.

But I have to let you go. It’s time.

You’re excited.

And I’m excited too. To watch you take this next step. I’m ready for there to be someone else to respond to all your many, many questions and to start to teach you the things I have no idea how to teach. I’ll miss you. Of course I will. Those two days a week that I don’t work have always been “Mummy and Thomas time”. And no matter how nice it might be to have a quiet cup of tea or do the shopping in peace, I’m going to really miss your company. The funny things you say and the adventures we have. I’m so glad that schools have holidays and that I get you back.

You know, it’s a real privilege to be your mum.

And that is why, amongst all the things that you learn at big school, I hope that you don’t unlearn the skill you’ve perfected of being the indescribable you.

I love you, always and unconditionally. But I hope you already know that.

Mummy xxx

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Masquerading as a “School Mum”

The last week has been one of yet more change for our family. In fact, it’s been the final step in a gradual process which has spanned the summer, since Thomas left his previous preschool. This has been the week where everything has come together – the new preschool, wearing a uniform and dealing with full blown school-run traffic – and fixed new family routines that will persist in to the far foreseeable future. It’s easy to say that it’s been nothing like as momentous as the weeks of those who have four year olds, embarking on their first days in a formal education career that will span thirteen years or more. After all, Thomas hasn’t started school yet.

I feel like a fraud, with pictures of my small boy in his pristine, too-big uniform amongst the scores of photos of “real” school starters on Facebook and Instagram. I feel like a fraud writing about how big this all feels to us when it’s only a preschool rather than compulsory education. I feel a bit like people might think we’re pretending to be something that we’re not. Or making a mountain out of a molehill.

But then, when I stop and think about it properly, I see that there can be no denying that this week has been huge.

It may still only be preschool but he is now settled at what will become his actual school when he does make that transition this time next year. The only difference in the routine will be moving across the playground to a different building (and, of course, attending five days rather than three with none of our current flexibility to nip off on holiday for a week whenever we choose). He is wearing his first school uniform, slightly too big in all dimensions, but having that immediate effect of making him look taller, older, so much more grown up. And it’s pretty much the same uniform that he’ll wear next year too.

I suppose, the point is, Thomas’s new school has been a massive change in lots of ways. He starts earlier, we travel by car, he wears a uniform, plays in the playground with older children and eats lunch in the school dining hall. Next year, when he actually “starts school” the changes will be much smaller. To the point that I think Thomas will barely notice, certainly in the run up and until he fully experiences the differences in classroom routine, teaching and learning. He won’t be nervous about starting in a new environment where he doesn’t know many faces because he’ll already have done that; He’s doing that now.

So no, I’m not trying to jump ahead of where we’re at, or rush through milestones in anyway. But I cannot not celebrate this one. He may not have started primary school yet and I may not be a genuine “School Mum”, but everything we’ve done these last couple of weeks has felt exactly as though that is what is happening. Effectively, this week has been his “starting school week”. The start of eight years of attending the same place, wearing roughly the same clothes and seeing the same people.

It won’t feel like this next year. I’ve no doubt it will still feel huge, but it will already be comfortable by then. Familiar. Not such a leap in to the unknown for all of us.

Which is exactly what it has been right now. New people, new places, new systems, requirements and regulations. I’ve been overwhelmed with ensuring I know who is who, where to hang bags and coats and which email address to use for what. And I’m an adult, not a not-quite-four year old.

So no, there is no denying that this week has been huge. And I couldn’t be more proud with how my little man has handled being left for long days in an alien environment with strangers. The most we have had is the occasional lament that he misses his old school. What he gets up to whilst he’s there, who he plays with and what he eats may be closely guarded secrets (his word!) but the smiles on his face, and the utter engagement I glimpse when I slip in, unnoticed, to collect him, speak volumes.

He’s not a school boy yet, but in his uniform I can already see the school boy he will become. I’m allowed to be proud of that. And to want to remember how it feels right now, without waiting for the officially defined “starting school” milestone. If I don’t capture this one now, it might have slipped through my fingers by then.

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Are we the Kind of Parents Who…

…Would send our child to a private school?

(tl;dr We’re sending our son to a private school. I hope that you won’t judge me for that, but I know many people will. Below lies an explanation for our choice, and why I feel that calling private education “unfair” is unfair in itself. We’re doing this because it is the right school for our son, and because we’re in the fortunate position – through hard work – to be able to make that choice. I don’t think private education is always “better” nor that there is necessarily anything wrong with a state education, this is just what is right for us.)

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I’ve known, ever since I first tried to write a post about school choices for Thomas, that I was going to find it hard. As hard as the decisions have been to make themselves. Yet whilst it’s obvious that deciding on what is best for at least seven years of our child’s life and their start in education is a tough parenting milestone, sharing those decisions should surely be easier, right?

Yet it turns out than in making choices that have turned out to be far from straightforward, I’ve had to examine myself and my personal beliefs and challenge the pre-determined assumptions I had about this stage of family life. And now I’m afraid to try and share all of that in a way that won’t make people judge me, or think badly of me, or – worst of all – make me doubt myself by challenging these hard thought out plans and my reasons for them. It turns out that whilst I’m very happy in life to be myself and do what I feel is right, I still have lingering issues with sharing the aspects of me and our life and beliefs that I feel may go against the grain, or invite questioning or criticism. I guess that I still, after all this time, care too much what other people think of me. Ironic, for a blogger, no?

But with change so imminently on the horizon – next week to be exact – it’s time I was honest. I know there will be judgement both of me but also, probably throughout his life, of Thomas because of the decision we have made for him. I know that when it comes to private education there are the supporters, the people who are doing the same and will get where I’m coming from plus the ones who will tell me they wish they could do the same, but circumstances prevent it. Then there are the haters. The ones who believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity in education, that it’s elitist, exclusive and detracts from opportunity for all (and that that is just for starters).

But it is the choice we have made for our only son.

I understand so many of the arguments against private education, but I believe that our choice, in our circumstance, is solid. And given that we will likely face ongoing questioning for it, now is the time to try and get comfortable with that.

Believe me, I never saw this coming. I’m from a decidedly middle class background, but I did not go to a prep school despite the availability of good ones locally. I didn’t imagine that we would send a child to a private school. I certainly never saw private education as “better” because I flourished in the state education system. Ian, on the other hand, attended a private school which he did not enjoy and which did not particularly support his natural aptitudes. Hardly a glowing endorsement. Add to that the fact that I’ve been exposed to plenty of the very worst that public schools can turn out and it’s not much wonder I never had a particular burning desire to put my own children in to the system. And “children” it would have been, had life dealt us a different hand. We’re financially secure thanks to hard work, but that almost certainly wouldn’t have stretched to three concurrent sets of school fees per year.

I can’t quite remember now exactly when we began to re-evaluate. I’m sure that it was during our infertility struggles when we began to realise that life was going to look quite different to how we had hoped. That, and the issues with availability of school places in our town being a constant topic of conversation amongst local parents – from the maternity ward onwards – it was hard not to give it some serious thought.

One of the chief arguments that comes up against private education is that it’s wrong to remove your child from the state system just because you don’t like it. It is more politically correct to remain within the system and change it from the inside out whilst preserving its funding. And I can see that can be quite true for areas with poor educational provision and undersubscribed schools whose funding is dependent on getting as many bums on seats as possible.

But what about areas like ours? We live a few hundred yards from a very good primary school and well under half a mile from another outstanding one. Both are horrendously oversubscribed. So let me make it clear that I have absolutely no issue with the schools that are potentially available to us, or with state education in general, it’s just that in all likelihood those schools won’t be available to us. Obviously things change from year to year, but two years ago we would have secured neither of our closest two schools, and this year we would have secured one by virtue of the local authority forcing them to take a “bulge” year – another issue in itself!

I don’t want to be the parent scrabbling around for a place at the last minute, or facing putting my child in a council-funded taxi to go to one of the outlying village schools which has a place. Nor do I want to be the parent that rushes in to a private school place simply because I don’t like what we are allocated. I wanted to go in to this calmly, with eyes wide open. I wanted to feel I was actually making a decision, not having my hand forced.

The bottom line is that removing my child from the state education system will have absolutely no effect on the funding available to any of those schools (because they will be full anyway) and, best case, it may release a place to someone who is not so fortunate to have alternative options. It may prevent one other person having to travel miles to the nearest available school and actually make a positive impact on that child’s, and family’s experience of primary education.

That last point sits at odds with what a lot of people feel about private education. They think that paying for an education is an unfair advantage because it’s not available to all, rather than seeing it as potentially opening up better opportunities for those without a choice. Development in our town continues apace, and alongside a baby-boom, the squeeze in school places shows no signs of abating. I can say in good conscience that not requiring a state funded school place can only be a helpful thing to the overall situation.

But yes, I have to agree that a private education may present advantages over a state education – although, not always, as it didn’t for my husband. It will almost certainly be better resourced with smaller classes and different opportunities, perhaps most importantly free from the rigidity of a government imposed curriculum and incessant assessment. But is it really “unfair” that we can access that?

We’re fortunate that we can afford it because we’ve worked bloody hard ourselves, all of our lives. I find the notion of it being unfair that some children gain advantages simply by virtue of their birth frankly absurd, as well as insulting. What have I been working hard for all this time of not to give my family the best that I can? Why do we talk of social mobility and closing inequality if not for that very reason – to help more people achieve just that. See, it’s not as selfish as it sounds. It’s not about “buying” the best for my child and sod everyone else. A good, appropriate and personalised education sets a person up to potentially contribute well to the world for the rest of their life. Isn’t that what we all want?

People that feel private education is fundamentally unfair are usually those who believe that education should be an absolutely level playing field for all. And in theory, I agree with that too. Everyone should be able to access a good quality education. It would aid social mobility and potentially help end so many inequalities. I know all these things. But sadly we do need to accept that education will never be a level playing field, no matter what we can achieve with “the system”. Because even if all schools were identical, and all lessons taught by clones with outstanding passion and ability there are many things that can never be the same. Most importantly children are not the same. So what suits one will not suit another. And everything that happens outside the door of the classroom is not level. If you hate the idea of variation in education, or streaming or anything that supposedly gives your child an “advantage” then I hope you don’t read with them at home. Or discuss their homework with them. Or support them by taking them to the library. Or on days out to bring their history lessons alive. Because millions of children don’t have that advantage of a supportive environment at home. They can’t get help with their homework. Yes, that’s a tragedy, but I don’t believe for a second that it means we should stop helping our own kids, otherwise who will be there to be the supporters of the next generation? Who will be the thought leaders who just might be able to get us out of the mess we’re currently in? Because if we try to level the playing field, inevitably it will fall to the lowest common denominator, and that does absolutely everybody a disservice, now and in the future.

Of course, you don’t have to go to a private school to end up being a strong contributor to society. Indeed It can be argued that many who go to “public” schools or independent secondaries aren’t the best contributors at all (see also: what got this country into such a mess in the first place). This isn’t as simple as private vs state education. What I’m getting at, and what really, really matters is that kids get the education that is right for them. It won’t – can’t – be the same for every child. And this is actually the single most important factor in our decision to send Thomas where he is going.

It’s also my biggest single criticism of the current state education system in this country. It often tries too hard to make things too level. There is too little room for manoeuvre and individualised targets or even differing learning styles. Children are too often seem as commodities to be pushed through, not as individuals. Living in Kent, a spiritual home of the Grammar School, and having attended one myself, I’m intimately familiar with how devisive their presence can be. And I agree that in the current set up they tend to be elitist and create unnecessary division, but that is simply because it’s a bit of an all-or-nothing affair. The alternatives, if you don’t go to grammar, are often not brilliant. But unlike a lot of detractors, I don’t think this is an argument against selective education. I think it’s an argument against the current system. Grammar schools are absolutely right and appropriate for a sub-section of the population who are academically oriented. What is needed is not “comprehensive” education for all, but selective education for all. There needs to be a variety of different types of schools that are properly focused on the wide variety of children that pass through them, catering for the creative as well as the academic, and for different types of learning style. I firmly believe that no one school can do it all, but each child has a right to attend a school that can cater for them (in order to curb length here, we’ll leave aside the difficult practicalities of such an approach for now, it’s simply a philosophy.)

With all of that in mind, we’ve chosen a school that we believe will suit Thomas. We haven’t picked a private school, as some people do (and others believe everyone does), in order to increase Thomas’s chances of gaining a grammar school place. In fact, we deliberately discounted any schools that assessed three year olds prior to entry. We picked our chosen school partly because it doesn’t enter every child for the 11+ (or Common Entrance). In fact, it’s a school that lost favour with some local parents in recent years because it doesn’t have a 100% 11+ pass rate. I see that as a good thing. It means I can be confident that they will suggest what is actually best for my child, not what is good for their figures (the same cannot be said for certain local state schools!)

We’ve also chosen the school because it’s small, with a real family feel that will absolutely suit him. Thomas is a typical young boy. He is hopeless in large groups, where he runs around and becomes the class clown, preferring to attract attention and laughs rather than concentrate. In a small group he is a different boy. Focused, determined, interested, curious and inquisitive. He seeks out one-to-one interaction however he can. He is a boy that could so easily be lost in a class of thirty children. He could so easily be labelled as a troublemaker or a joker, and slip between the cracks. The environment of his school will – hopefully – guard against that.

The fact that we can move him now, in to their preschool, is also a huge advantage. Thomas is already very ready for the learning aspects of school, despite not being old enough to start reception until next September. He can already read, races through simple mathematical problems and most of all wants to find out about things. He’s eager to learn and excited by it. But socially, and emotionally, he has a way to go. Normal, of course, for a year away from school start, but spending the next year in what will become his school environment will be an enormous help. Playtime will be shared with older children, and lunch will be eaten in the dinner hall. They “borrow” classrooms when older children are away swimming, in order to really get a feel for what “big school” is about and ease that transition. Why would I not want that for my child?

So this is where we are.

I’m not sure who I thought were the “type” of parents to send their children to private schools. I guess I was guilty of stereotyping, assuming it was “rich” people or simply people who are not like us, although I’m not sure why. The impression that I now have is that a huge variety of people make this choice for a huge variety of reasons. I don’t necessarily identify with all the reasons people have, but I’m totally comfortable with ours.

We have, and will only have one child. I want what is right for him. It won’t make him better than anyone else, but hopefully it will help him be the best version of himself that he can. I simply can’t apologise for that.

And so, I guess, it turns out that we are the type of parents who send their child to a private school.

Everything Changes (But You)

Dear Thomas,

I’ve been putting off writing this letter, in much the same way that I’ve kept dithering over talking to you in depth about the changes we’re about to inflict upon your life and your routine. But now, it’s just weeks away and there is no more escaping it.

In a few weeks we’ll be moving you from the only nursery and preschool that you’ve ever known. You’ve been there since a few days shy of six months. When you started you could only just sit up. You couldn’t crawl, let alone stand. You were just days in to your weaning journey and I still had to visit you each day to feed you your milk because you never did get the hang of taking it from a bottle, stubborn as you are. You’ve moved through the rooms there, forming attachments to the staff, who all know you and your (huge) personality now, making friends and making yourself thoroughly at home.

You really are at home there. Confident, sociable, outgoing. You chatter about your days and you friends. You have favourite places, from the window where you wave to me in the morning, to the book corner and the playhouse in the garden. By now you can, of course, run, jump, skip, hop, talk nineteen-to-the-dozen and even read and write, and so many of these developments have been aided by your fantastic nursery and the people there who have watched you grow. People who really know you and genuinely care about you.

So making the decision to move you has been one of the hardest choices we’ve had to make as parents so far. It’s hard, this aspect of parenting: making decisions on behalf of your child, trying to decide what is best for them when you can’t really know how it will all turn out, and all the while being aware that it could have far reaching consequences. We talked for so many hours about the pros and cons. We looked at the option of moving you after another term. We looked at the option of leaving you where you are for one day a week and moving you for two. Believe me when I say, we really thought this through. But in the end, the choice was made.

In my heart, I know this is right. We’re moving you to the preschool at what, all being well, will be your “big school” and where you’ll be until you’re eleven. Eleven! Imagine that? (I can’t.)

No matter how much your current preschool has helped you flourish, I know you are ready for some new challenges. Being an older child in your school year, you’ve already done three terms of “official preschool”. And before that you always moved up a room every few months. I know that staying in the same place again may make you stagnate. You might lose your currently seemingly infinite passion for learning and exploring. And the very last thing I want to do is switch you off education before you’ve even had a chance to properly begin. I firmly believe that you’re someone who benefits from change, and variety. And I want to encourage that.

I know that you will miss your friends. But we picked the timing carefully. So many of your friends are already four, and they’re all off to school in September anyway. It makes sense for you to move at the same time. In fact, I sort of thought you’d think everyone was leaving, but for just a moment I forgot how smart you are. As you told me “I’m too small to go to school”.

Yes, you are kiddo. But then, I’ll probably always think you’re too small to be such a grown up boy. I think we’ve overcome the confusion that panicked me for a while, where I think you believed we were packing you off to “big school” early. You know that this is still preschool. Just different preschool.

So, yes, this is happening. You’ve visited your new preschool over and over. You’ve told us how much you like it there. In three weeks it will be where you go three days a week. It will be a big change. You’ll wear a uniform. We’ll have to leave earlier in the mornings because instead of dropping you off on my walk to work, I’ll have to drive you to the top of town, before turning round, driving home and then walking to work alone. That drive will mean your pick up is a little later too. The routine will be different. And because the preschool is attached to a school, you’ll go from being one of the biggest fish to being one of the teeny tiniest, as you mix with the reception children during playtime.

Such a big change for you, because you know nothing different to what you do now.

But everything changes.

Everything except you. Because no matter what, I know that you’ll still be my bright, bubbly and confident boy. At least, I hope you will. I hope that I’ve made the right decision on your behalf and that this move will help you soar, rather than hold you back.

Everything changes. But you’ll always be my best boy.

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All my love, always

Mummy

“I Want a Brother” and Other Things That Make Me Immeasurably Sad

I see a lot of blog posts about positivity. About happiness. About the simple things that bring joy.

This is not one of those posts.

It may not be “the done thing” to make a list of negatives, and there may not be a linky for “top sad moments of the week”, but this place is my honest outlet. The place to share and offload how I’m really feeling, downs and all.

And this week had a real downer.

Last Wednesday, amongst recurring tantrums that I wasn’t doing exactly what Thomas wanted (despite his lack of communication on what that was) as we played together, and outbursts of anger that he wasn’t capable – or at least thought he wasn’t capable – of doing certain things that he wanted came a mega strop at me. It was provoked by my momentary unavailability to be a train, or whatever the game of the moment was. I was trying to prep for dinner, hang a load of wet laundry and answer a couple of important – as in “must-be-done-before-5pm-type – emails simultaneously. All I’d asked of Thomas, after a day spent in London together, and then playing together for a couple of hours, was that he play on his own for a bit.

If there is one thing that my son is not great at, it’s playing on his own. He’s a people person and always wants a playmate.

So when I asked him again to give me five minutes he hurled a real cracker at me:

“I want a brother. Then I’ll always have someone to play with me.”

It’s fair to say, I finished up in bits. I know that’s he’s not capable of intentionally trying to wound with words and that he couldn’t possibly comprehend their power. But my goodness, it fucking hurt.

Leaving the obvious aside for a moment, it was a sock in the gut because it was the preschooler equivalent of “I hate you.” In that one small sentence, he was telling me that I wasn’t good enough because I don’t play with him enough. He wanted someone other than me, who would be a better playmate.

It doesn’t matter that the rational part of my brain knows that this isn’t true – I spend huge amounts of time immersed in his games, down on the floor, building train tracks, acting out the fat controller, playing snap or snakes and ladders. We play with Playdoh and paints. We cook together and stick stickers together. It’s a simple fact of life that, sadly, I also have other things that must be done and I cannot be one hundred percent available to Thomas one hundred percent of the time.

But that’s not how Thomas perceives it, and no matter how silly, it still hurts.

But of course, it’s worse than that. Because I would dearly have loved to give Thomas a sibling. If you read regularly, you cannot fail to know that.

I know that that too is not as simple as it sounds. Even if we had fallen pregnant the first month of trying, that child would be almost two and so only really now beginning to be capable of participating in Thomas’s games. And that is assuming that they even wanted to. Having another child could have raised a whole lot of different issues, with Thomas constantly screaming that they were ruining his games, or taking his toys. With me unable to leave them together for fear of them falling out or hurting one another. Having another child is no guarantee that they’ll be friends or playmates. I know that.

But once again, it’s Thomas’s perception that counts. He’s suddenly decided that a sibling would equal a permanent play mate, and for a child who always wants to be with others, that’s huge.

And of course, it’s the one thing that I can’t do.

I would give everything I own to make it happen. But I can’t. And this, the first time of Thomas openly articulating a request for a sibling, stung me to my very core.

Somehow this moment opened the floodgates and turned my sensitivity meter to high, because for the next twenty four hours, everything seemed to hurt. I’m getting pretty good at suppressing the sadness associated with our infertility, and avoiding the things that trigger it, Thomas’s comment was like picking at a scab, and then I just couldn’t leave it alone.

Amongst other things, I took myself on to Facebook. I don’t really use Facebook anymore, and there’s an obvious reason why not: It seems that EVERYONE has either just had a baby, or is pregnant. Scrolling through all the pictures in my newsfeed made me realise just how many people who hadn’t even had their first child when we started trying for a second now have their second child too. Which in turn made me realise that from the point that we started to try for Thomas, to the point that we started to try again having already had him was a shorter period of time that we’ve now been attempting to have another baby. I don’t know why that upset me specifically, but it did. Possibly because it made me realise just how much of my life this has taken up.

Then elsewhere online, there seemed to be a lot of baby talk and rather than turn a blind eye and move on to something else, I kept reading. I saw conversations unfolding where people talked almost carelessly of how and when they will have another child. They talked about how long they are leaving it to start trying because it needs to fit in with their plans, or they have a dream about how it will all fit together.

When I see stuff like this I feel like butting in and telling them to just get the hell on with it, because it turns out that you can’t truly plan these things. Fertility has no regard for your dreams. I want to cringe at their naivety that it can all be so easy just because they’ve done it once before.

But then, once I was that naive. I did it too.

And the honest truth is that, for the very vast majority of people, their plans and dreams will come to fruition.

Just for us, they didn’t.

How I wish for those carefree moments of assumption back.

How I wish it were all different.

How I wish I could give Thomas the sibling he asked for.

Talking to Thomas About Diabetes

I’ve read a few things from mothers with diabetes over the last couple of years about the conversations they’ve had with their kids about their condition. Some of these people have had much older children, capable of really understanding the ins and outs of diabetes, and from whom it would be almost impossible to hide the tell tale signs of living with it. Others have pre-school age kids, more like Thomas. And it is some of those whose kids astound me with how much they already seem to know.

I have a confession to make on that front. I’ve never, knowingly at least, used the word “diabetes” in front of my now three-and-a-quarter (the quarter’s important dontchaknow?!) year old son. And I’m pretty sure it’s not a word which is in his otherwise extensive vocabulary.

Obviously Thomas has seen my insulin pump, and asked what it is. He’s seen my testing kit, seen me using it and revelled in the fact that it churns out numbers – his second favourite thing after trains (yeah, I’m waaaay down on that list!) He’s seen me chugging Lucozade to treat a low and asked what it is, or what I’m doing. In every single one of these cases I’ve replied with the very generic “Mummy’s medicine”.

It’s an answer he happily accepts. He knows that he has medicine when he doesn’t feel well, but he also knows gets what he calls “medicine” every day in the form of vitamin syrup, so “medicine” doesn’t have purely negative connotations for him. And it’s not an outright lie. These are things that I’m doing, or taking, in order to keep myself healthy and ready for whatever Thomas needs from me.

I don’t really know *why* I haven’t told him more than that. Or, at least, it’s not simple to explain.

To say it’s because I don’t think he would understand would be doing him a massive disservice. He’s a bright boy and, more than that, a deeply empathetic and caring one too. It’s fair to say that I currently have no idea exactly how I would explain it to him, how much detail to include or what words to use, but that is as much because I haven’t given any thought as because it might be hard to do. I’m sure that I could come up with the words if I really wanted to.

I do wonder sometimes if it’s because I don’t want Thomas to regard me as I some way “broken”. Thomas sees me as his Mummy – an absolute, reliable constant. He knows that I give good hugs, always come when he needs me and can kiss almost any bump or scrape better. I don’t want anything to cloud that image.

It’s rather like how I felt back when I was a new mum and was witness to debates about post-pregnancy bodies and “snapping back in to shape”. Back then, I couldn’t actually have cared less how I looked because Thomas didn’t. All he cared about was my presence. All he wanted from my body was its warmth and security and milk – all of which he got in abundance. I want Thomas to go on not caring about my body and it’s workings, or lack thereof, just the person that I am to him. I could argue that I don’t want to do anything to jeopardise the perfection that Thomas sees in me even if I don’t see it myself, no matter how daft that may sound.

And of course, there is what other people might think of me to consider too. If Thomas were acutely aware of diabetes, I have no doubt at all that it would be a daily topic of conversation around the pre-school lunch table. Thomas can’t help but keep re-iterating to everyone there that his mummy wears glasses (and contact lenses). It’s just a fact about me that he’s fond of repeating. But what if I only wore lenses and I weren’t comfortable for everyone to know? And honestly, where diabetes is concerned, I don’t necessarily want everyone to know.

That may sound strange coming from someone who posts the intimate details of her life online (hello, not sharing my full name) and someone who is incredibly comfortable with impromptu advocacy and education sessions when the teachable moment arises. I guess I’m fine talking about it openly once people know, but the letting them know in the first place is awkward for me. I’m never sure how people might react and a lot of that relates to my profession and how people would regard me if they knew I had a laundry list of chronic health problems with diabetes right up there at the top. Chief amongst my faults is caring too much what people think of me, but once that information is out there, I can’t take it back, so I’m hesitant around those who don’t know.

And maybe it really is as simple as that. Maybe I’m just hesitant about letting my son know at all because it’s something I just find difficult to do even when the person in question loves me more unconditionally that anyone else in my world.

Maybe it’s just too hard.

Before I started writing this post, and I wondered to myself exactly what the reasoning was behind my reticence, it crossed my mind that I might be protecting him from a reality that he shouldn’t need to worry about yet. But at the same time I realised that Thomas is about to reach the very age I was when I was diagnosed, and it became not just an abstract idea, or something that applied to someone else, but my very own reality.

Perhaps it’s time to give my son the credit he is due, get over my hang ups and let him process the information in the way I’m very sure he is capable of doing. After all, it may be hard for me to share the story with him, but it must have been a whole lot harder for my parents to share it with me.

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Any tips on how to have conversations that you find hard with pre-school aged children will be gratefully received!

I’m Sorry That You’ll Never Have a Sibling

Dear Thomas,

A year ago, just after your second birthday, I wrote you a letter, explaining just how much we wanted to give you a sibling for your birthday and how sorry I was that it hadn’t happened. I also promised to try the best we could to make it happen this year, for your third birthday.

Your third birthday has been and gone. You loved your new train set and your Buzz Lightyear.

But you still don’t have a sibling.

The sad truth is that you will never have a sibling.

When, a couple of weeks ago, you asked me where your baby sister was, my heart cracked in two. I couldn’t answer that question, not only because the hurt in my heart made it hard for me to speak without tears, but more simply because I don’t know the answer. I know that you believe that there is no question I can’t answer and that “Daddy is good at fixing things”. But I don’t know the answer to this, or why this has happened, and sadly, this is something that Daddy just can’t fix.

It’s not for lack of trying. The one thing I can promise you is that we didn’t give up easily. After I wrote that letter last year, everything went a bit crazy. Just a few short weeks later, we received the crushing news that medical science was our only chance to have another child. So that is what we’ve spent this year doing; Three rounds of IVF. We came close on the first try. So close that for a blissful but brief time I really believed it could happen. That baby would have been due the week before your birthday.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

It seems that another member of our family just isn’t meant to be.

I know that right now, at the age of three, you don’t really care about any of this. You only ask questions about a baby brother or sister because so many people in your world have new baby siblings. You don’t grasp at all what having a sibling really means or the finality of our inability to give you one. My greatest hope has been that the upheavals we, as your parents, have put ourselves through this year haven’t impacted on you negatively. Given what a happy kid you are, I’m pretty confident that reading these letters when you’re old enough may well be the first hint you’ll get of the turmoil we’ve been through.

I also know that there’s every chance that the “older you” will be wondering just what I’m making a fuss about. I know of plenty of people who’ve grown up happily without siblings and say they wouldn’t change it for the world – your own Grandpa included. After all, you cannot miss what you’ve never had.

But then, you don’t know what you’re missing either. And sometimes I just feel so sad that this is being thrust upon us and you, and that none of us have a choice. I can understand where people’s sympathy wanes when it comes your Dad and I. After all, we’ve already had the joy of parenthood once, and perhaps we don’t deserve any more. But you. You’ve done nothing to deserve to be denied the opportunity of a sibling relationship.

This is why secondary infertility really hurts. Of course there’s my own unsatisfied longing to become a mother all over again. But there is also my unsatisfied longing to see you as a sibling. It’s a double punch.

I don’t want you to think for even a moment, however, that my pain at not having another child can eclipse my joy at having you in my life. I hope that you’ll know that intrinsically as you grow up. I’d be lost without your cheeky smile, your infectious giggle and your quirky obsessions. If we can’t have two, thank goodness we have you.

I can’t really say much more that hasn’t already been said in last year’s letter. My feelings are largely the same. The main difference is that back then we had hope.

Now, we have none.

Or at least, no realistic hope.

I’m just grateful that this doesn’t hurt you yet. And if you should grow up to be unhappy about your “only” status, at least we have time until that happens. And I will cherish every moment of your childhood until then.

Just know, kiddo, that I love you endlessly.

That’s the most important thing of all.

Mummy xxx

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